• The Story of Rubin Hurricane Carter


    Rubin "Hurricane" Carter (born May 6, 1937), a middleweight boxer between 1961 and 1966, is better known for his controversial convictions (1967, 1976) for three June 1966 murders in Paterson, New Jersey, and his subsequent release from prison in 1985.
    The question of Carter's actual guilt or innocence remains a strongly polarizing one, however this much is certain: either the criminal justice system released a triple murderer from the punishment that two separate juries had recommended, or it imprisoned an innocent man for almost 20 years.

    Pre-boxing life
    Carter grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, a middle son among seven children. His parents had a stable, long-lasting marriage, provided well for the family, and raised their other six children without significant problems. Only Rubin seems to have acquired a criminal record, one that resulted in his being sentenced to a juvenile reformatory for assault and robbery shortly after his fourteenth birthday.
    Carter escaped from the reformatory in 1954 and joined the United States Army at age seventeen. Several months after completing infantry basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he was shipped to Germany, where, according to his 1974 autobiography, he became interested in boxing. However, Carter was a poor soldier, and was court-martialed four times for charges ranging from insubordination to being AWOL. In May 1956, the Army discharged him as "unfit for military service", well short of his scheduled date of separation. He had served twenty-one months of his three-year term of enlistment.
    After his return to New Jersey, Carter was picked up by authorities and made to serve an additional 10 months for escaping from the reformatory. Shortly after being released, Carter was arrested for a series of street muggings, which included assault and robbery of a middle-aged black woman. He pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to the New Jersey State Penitentiary, where he would remain for the next four years.

    [edit]Boxing career
    While in prison, Carter resumed his interest in boxing, and promptly upon his release in September 1961, turned professional. At 5 feet 8 inches, Carter was shorter than the average middleweight, but he fought all of his professional career at 155-160 pounds. His shaven head, prominent mustache, unwavering stare and solid frame made him an intimidating presence in the ring decades before such a look became commonplace. His aggressive style and punching power (which resulted in many early-round knockouts) drew attention, establishing him as a crowd favorite and earning him the nickname “Hurricane”. After he had beaten a number of legitimate middleweight contenders such as Florentino Fernandez, Holley Mims, Gomeo Brennan, and George Benton, the boxing world took notice. Ring Magazine first listed him as one of its "Top 10" middleweight contenders in July, 1963.
    He fought six times in 1963, winning four of the fights and losing two.[1] He remained ranked in the lower part of the top 10 until December 20, when he surprised the boxing world by flooring past and future world champion Emile Griffith twice in the first round and scoring a technical knockout.
    That win resulted in Carter being ranked as the #3 contender for Joey Giardello's middleweight title. Carter won two more fights (one a decision over future heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis) in 1964, before meeting Giardello in Philadelphia for a 15-round championship match on December 14. Carter fought well, but the judges awarded Giardello a unanimous decision. Most of the press concurred; an informal poll conducted among sportswriters at ringside showed that 14 of 18 agreed that Giardello had outboxed the challenger. Carter was gracious in defeat and did not protest the judging.
    After that fight, Carter's standing as a contender—as reflected by his ranking in Ring Magazine—began to decline. He fought nine times in 1965, but lost four of five fights against top contenders (Luis Manuel Rodriguez, Harry Scott and Dick Tiger). Tiger, in particular, had no problem with Carter, flooring him three times in their match. "It was", Carter said, "the worst beating that I took in my life - inside or outside the ring".[2]

    [edit]The murders
    On June 17, 1966, at around 2:30 a.m. two black males entered the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey, and started shooting. The bartender, Jim Oliver, and a male customer, Fred "Cedar Grove Bob" Nauyoks, were killed instantly. A badly wounded female customer, Hazel Tanis, died almost a month later, having been shot in the throat, stomach, intestine, spleen and left lung, and her arm shattered by shotgun pellets. A third customer, Willie Marins, survived the attack, despite being shot in the head and losing sight in one eye.[3] Petty criminal, Alfred Bello, who had been near the Lafayette to commit a burglary that same night, was an eyewitness. Bello was one of the first people on the scene of the shootings and called a telephone operator to alert the police. A resident on the second floor (above the Lafayette), Patricia Graham (later Patricia Valentine), saw two black males get into a white car and drive west away from the bar. Another neighbor, Ronald Ruggiero, also heard the shots and when he looked from his window he saw Bello running on Lafayette Street towards 16th Street. He also heard the screech of tires and saw a white car shoot past, heading west, with two black males in the front seat. Carter's car matched the description provided by the witnesses; the police stopped it and brought Carter and another occupant, John Artis, to the scene about thirty minutes after the incident. There was little physical evidence, police took no fingerprints at the crime scene, and lacked the necessary facilities to conduct a paraffin test on Carter and Artis. None of the eyewitnesses identified Carter or Artis as one of the shooters, nor did Marins when the police took Carter and Artis to the hospital to be viewed by him. However, on searching Carter's car, police found a live .32 caliber pistol round and a 12-gauge shotgun shell - the same calibers used in the shootings. Carter and Artis were taken to police headquarters and questioned. In the afternoon, both men underwent polygraph testing. Although there are serious questions about exactly what happened during the testing, examiner John J. McGuire subsequently reported the following conclusion about each man: "After a careful analysis of the polygraph record of this subject, it is the opinion of the examiner that this subject was attempting deception to all the pertinent questions. And was involved in this crime. After the examination and confronted with the examiners opinion the subject denied any participation in the crime". The scientific merit and reliability of polygraph tests are disputed however, and they are generally inadmissible as evidence. Carter and Artis were released later that day.

    [edit]First conviction and appeal
    Several months later, Bello disclosed to the police that he had had an accomplice during the attempted burglary, one Arthur Dexter Bradley. On further questioning, Bello and Bradley both independently identified Carter as one of the two black males that they had seen carrying weapons outside the bar the night of the murders; Bello also identified Artis as the other. Based on this additional evidence, Carter and Artis were arrested and indicted.
    Even though the defense showed that the accused didn't match the descriptions that witnesses gave on June 17, the two stuck to their testimony. This, plus evidence of the identification of Carter's car by Patricia Valentine, the ammunition found in Carter's car, and questions about the testimony given by Carter's alibi witnesses, convinced an all-white jury that Carter and Artis were the killers. Both men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
    During his time in prison, Carter wrote his autobiography "The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472", which was published in 1974. He maintained his innocence, and won increasing public support for a retrial or pardon. Bob Dylan wrote and performed a song, called "Hurricane" (1975), which expressed the view that Carter was innocent. Meanwhile, Carter's supporters persuaded Bello and Bradley to recant the testimony they had given at the 1967 trial,[4] and these recantations were used as the basis for a motion for a new trial. But Judge Larner, who presided over both the original trial and the recantation hearing, ruled that the recantations "lacked the ring of truth", and denied the motion.[5]
    However, defense attorneys made yet another motion, based on evidence which came to light during the recantation hearing process (some of which was contained on a police tape recording of an interview with Bello). Although Larner denied this motion as well (agreeing with the prosecution view that they had tried to present testimony about the interview, but were blocked by the defense), the New Jersey Supreme Court granted Carter and Artis a new trial in 1976, holding that the evidence of various "deals" made between the prosecution and witnesses Bello and Bradley should have been disclosed to the defense before or during the 1967 trial.
    Despite enormous public and political pressure to drop the case, Prosecutor Burrell Ives Humphreys made the difficult decision to re-prosecute the by-now ten-year-old murder indictments. However, he made an offer to both Carter and Artis - a "no-risk" polygraph test. If either man would take and "pass" a polygraph test conducted by a nationally-recognized expert, Humphreys would drop the prosecution as to that man. Were he to "fail" the test, there would be no adverse consequences. [6]
    Generally, courts do not regard polygraph tests as sufficently reliable to admit in evidence. But if both sides have agreed that the results will be admissible, a judge will admit the polygraph test results and the jury can hear the examiner's opinion. Because of this, the usual offer made to a defendant is a two-edged sword; pass and go free, fail and the results will be admitted in evidence against you. Humphreys's offer to Carter and Artis was remarkable, because he did not insist on the second provision; the results would not become evidence if Carter or Artis failed the test.
    However, both men rejected the offer.
    Because Bello had told a number of different versions of the events of that night, Humphreys insisted that Bello repeat his identification of the defendants to two different polygraphers. Although both concluded that Bello was speaking truthfully, one of the polygraphers also reached the conclusion that Bello had been inside the Lafayette Bar either immediately before or during the shootings, and orally reported this information to the prosecution team. In his follow-up written report, however, the polygrapher stated only that Bello's 1967 testimony (which placed him outside the bar, on the street during the shootings) was truthful.

    [edit]Second conviction and appeal
    During the new trial, witness Alfred Bello abandoned his recantation and repeated the testimony he had given in 1967, identifying Carter and Artis as the two armed men he had seen at the Lafayette Grill. Judge Leopizzi instructed the jurors that if they did not believe Bello, they should acquit the defendants. The State objected and requested that the Court instruct the jury that a conviction could be based on the other evidence the State had presented, but this request was denied. Carter and Artis were once again found guilty, this time by a jury that included two African-Americans, in under nine hours. Carter and Artis were again sentenced to life in prison. Carter's defense continued to appeal on various grounds. In 1982, the Supreme Court of New Jersey acknowledged that the prosecution had withheld evidence, a so-called Brady violation, but affirmed the conviction in a 4-3 decision.

    [edit]Appeal at the federal court
    Three years later, Carter's attorneys filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, an often unsuccessful collateral attack on the judgment of a state court requesting federal review of the constitutionality of the state court's decision. The effort paid off; in 1985, United States District Court judge Haddon Lee Sarokin ruled that Carter and Artis had not received a fair trial, saying that the prosecution had been "based on racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure." He chided the State of New Jersey for having withheld evidence regarding Bello's problematic polygraph testing and related issues, and set aside their convictions.[7] New Jersey prosecutors unsuccessfully appealed Sarokin's ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals who affirmed Sarokin's opinion on one of the two grounds used to free Carter, but not the other, and to the United States Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. The Supreme Court controls its own docket, and unlike most other courts, it does not have to resolve every case appealed to it, it decides which ones it will hear, and "denies certiorari" to the others, meaning that it will not consider and decide the case, which is what happened to Passaic County's appeal.[8]
    Although Passaic County prosecutors could have tried Carter and Artis a third time, they chose not to. Witnesses had disappeared or died, the cost of mounting a third prosecution would have been extremely high, and it was unclear what result a third conviction would have produced. Artis, for one, had already been paroled and would not have been returned to prison even had he been re-convicted. In 1988, New Jersey prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the original indictments brought against Carter and Artis in 1966, effectively dropping all charges.

    John Artis, after being released on parole in 1985, was imprisoned again in 1986 when he pled guilty to dealing cocaine and to receiving a stolen handgun. Now a social worker, he works with troubled youth in Virginia.
    Carter has lived on a farm just outside Toronto, Ontario, Canada, since 1988, and was executive director of The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted from 1993 until 2005. He now works as a motivational speaker. Carter publicly resigned from the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted when the prosecutor of Guy Paul Morin, a wrongfully convicted man, was promoted to a judgeship and the ADWC declined to support Carter's protest of the appointment. On October 14, 2005, Rubin Carter received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from York University (Toronto, Ontario) as well as Griffith University (Brisbane, Australia) in recognition of his work with the ADWC and the Innocence Project.
    Carter's career record in boxing was 27 wins, 12 losses and one draw in 40 fights, with 8 knockouts and 11 technical knockouts. He received an honorary championship title belt from the World Boxing Council in 1993, as did Joey Giardello at the same banquet held in Las Vegas. In reality, these "belts" are essentially just mementos.
    Carter's saga inspired a 1999 feature film called The Hurricane starring Denzel Washington in the title role.

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